Life of Beatrice Tinsley
  • The Life of Beatrice Tinsley
    1. The Early Years in England (1941-1945)
    2. Beatrice Muriel Hill was born on 27th of January, 1941 at Richmond Lodge in Chester, England. She was the second daughter of Edward Owen Eustace Hill and Jean Morton. Her elder sister was Rowena, her younger sister Theodora. Britain was at war. Food and coal were rationed. Chester is only thirty kilometers from Liverpool, a prime bombing target because of its dockyards. Planes were ditching unwanted bombs on Chester.

      Edward was born in Llandaff, Monmouthshire, Wales. Before the war Edward had been a history scholar at Oxford and had worked in a lawyer's office. During the war he was a staff captain in the infantry and later major. Edward claims that Beatrice's looks were from her paternal grandfather.

      Jean was a semi-professional cellist and writer. Jean was the daughter of Sir James Morton and Lady Beatrice Emily (Fagan) Morton of Cumberland. Sir James' obituary in the Times newspaper described him as "His dominating artistic sensitivity and interest in science and research made him a leader in the production of fadeless fabrics." Lady Morton's brother was an "outstanding amateur mathematician." and judge in India.

      Aged 3

      Beatrice was a premature baby. In a cold dreary winter, neighbours donated their coal rations to help keep baby Beatrice warm. Nanny Gullidge was hired to take care of Beatrice. After the war the family moved back home to Llandaff House. Edward was ordained as a minister, but Edward did not speak Welsh, so was unsuitable to be a minister in Wales. Some New Zealanders, tenants at Llandaff House, guided them towards New Zealand.

    3. Growing up in New Zealand (1946-1953)
    4. The Hill family arrived at Christchurch at the end of August 1946. Rowena and Beatrice attended kindergarten then St. Margaret's diocesan school for girls. Edward became vicar at Southbridge (about 50 km south of Christchurch on New Zealand's south island). Beatrice attended the primary department of the District High School. She was "best in the class". She was promoted mid-year to a higher class where she improved even more. She flourished, an indication of her need of stimulus from her new classmates. This was to be true in Beatrice's later professional life - she thrived on peer-group interaction.

      Beatrice started her prodigious letter-writing at a tender age. Excursions as a seven-year old were recorded in a letter to her mother. Beatrice was greatly saddened when Nanny decided to return home to England in 1949. She wrote a little book "My lovely Nanny". Whenever Beatrice visited England in later years, she would visit Nanny.

      Edward resigned from Southbridge and moved the family to the warmer climate of New Plymouth on the north island to become the assistant vicar.

      The girls attended the central primary school. Beatrice's life was full - the piano and violin, ballet, and pony club - a busy and happy child. A letter of Jean's to her mother in 1951 describes Beatrice's room with its charts for ballet, music, diagrams of geometric shapes. Jean's letter also described Beatrice as being a day-dreamer and absent-minded. Beatrice obtained the nickname Beetle - which lasted the for the rest of her life.

      Primary School

      Beatrice wrote many verses a young child. This describes the view from her bedroom:

      "I see the dainty blue sea lightly tipped with foam

      Over these wide waters I'd some day like to roam."

    5. New Plymouth Girls High School (1953-1957)
    6. 1953 Back: Jean and Theodora, Front Beatrice and Rowena

      Beatrice in her first year at high school won the prize for strings when she was encouraged to become a professional musician. Music did, in fact, become a serious lifetime avocation. There is a photo in the Catley article of the school assembly hall taken from high up in gods looking down - the school choir massed on stage, school orchestra in the pits. Beatrice is conducting the orchestra, with Theodora at the piano.

      Beatrice decided to become an astrophysicist by the age of 14. One of her teachers, Joyce Jarold recalls when Beatrice was in fifth form: "Beatrice asked me if she could borrow some physics books, 7th form reference books. I was skeptical at first although I knew she was bright. When you teach, you're mostly trying to din something in. Very occasionally you realise that you

      are dealing with a great mind that is infinitely superior to your own. Beatrice came into that category." . Another teacher, Maisie Heward describes how Beatrice would hand in a science paper "about one quarter the length of the others, yet concisely include every detail."

      But Beatrice was not just a bookworm-type. Her English teacher says of Beatrice "her quick perception and her sense of humour; and especially because it is such a comfort when a gifted science student so thoroughly enjoys English literature and all its surrounding landscapes."

      In 1953 Edward became Mayor of New Plymouth and Jean had a religious novel "Wind May Blow" published. So home life was hectic. A visitor on asking where Beatrice was '"Oh," said Mrs Hill, "she'll be in her room, making out her timetable - 6:30am get up, 6:40am make bed … and so on for the day."' This self-discipline and organisational ability would keep her in good stead all her professional life. She was not allowed to rise before 6:30AM but this was not a time to be wasted - she would go through her music in her head.

      Sport was not Beatrice's forte, but she obtained her life saving certificate. Once in 4th form, she became ill, and so missed some exams and so marked as zero. She still easily came top of the class. Although she was ahead in classes of girls her own age, she still maintained social contact with her friends. A school friend describes Beatrice as "Her eyes twinkled, her words bubbled out - so quickly that we often had to ask her to repeat what she'd said. She had a very quick wit." .

      In 1954 Rowena had been dux of the school and had gained one of the top 10 National University Scholarships. Edward describes the headmistress, Miss Rose Allum, discussing Beatrice's future "Rose Allum was convinced Beatrice would do the same, if she would continue with her English. But Beatrice did not agree. She was determined to do more mathematics." No girl had done this in 20 years, but Miss Allum arranged for Beatrice to attend the Boy's High School. Beatrice gained her Junior Scholarship.

      In 1957 Beatrice was Dux of New Plymouth Girls High School.

    7. Canterbury University (1958-1963)
    8. The provincial girl moved into Helen Connon Hall to attend Canterbury University. In a letter home, Beatrice describes one of her first Physics lectures. "'What is Science?, what is real... building everything up from experiment, not using the theories we've been taught to see if an experiment 'worked'... Everything must be thought of from a logical and perfectly basic beginning… I realise that all advances in science have been made by people who have thought along totally unconventional lines and haven't been misled by the authority of that Great Name having said it was true" . Beatrice's reaction to university life after a co-educational background "Why is male company so much better than endless females? ..In all our lecture classes, which are well over a hundred, there are no more than ten girls." Beatrice was not intimidated by male company as Gaposchkin had been in her university days.

      In August 1958, Lady Morton died. Beatrice's letter to her mother said "I think it must be about the most wonderful thing of all to look back when you're near death, to think of your children and to know that because you were a mother there is no possible end to the influence of your own life." Family was such an important part of Beatrice's life.

      Beatrice the revolutionary, reacted to sitting in on Maths lectures covering work that she had already studied so "I'm going to sit back on lectures and work on stuff that's going to get me somewhere, namely learning new maths. Also instead of just sticking to the syllabus work in Chem and Physics I'm reading and learning as much as I can about everything.".

      Beatrice decided to take a 6 month lease on a flat in Christchurch. After much cleaning of the new flat and an unwilling landlord refusing to carry out repairs, Beatrice says "I lost my temper" "My hackles was up. I jolly well determined to get another flat and not pay another week's rent". . Beatrice succeeded.

      In second year, Beatrice discussed with her professor as to which subjects to choose - Pure and Applied for Maths and Physics. Beatrice wrote "I want both: the maths to reason with and the physics to apply it to". She enrolled in both Maths II and Physics II without tying herself to an honours course in either. Little time could be spent on her music. It was suggested that she study German and Russian. She passed Science German.

      In March 1959, Beatrice wrote "I saw in the Varisty book shop this gorgeous book for 58s/6d and I had to get it. It's an American book and therefore beautiful called 'Theories of the Universe' and is a collection of writings from Plato to Einstein and Bondi, wonderfully put together and arranged, and being historical it won't date. One could more or less add to it oneself."

      Graduating 1962 with first class Honors from University of Canterbury

      Beatrice joined the New Zealand National Orchestra for two years. Hectic times - study, practice sessions and even attending a Chamber Music school in Christchurch during vacation. Summer family holidays at Lake Taupo would see her go into the bush with violin and 2 pegs - so she could hang her music from a convenient branch.

      By her twentieth birthday, Beatrice had become engaged to physicist Brian Alfred Tinsley, and received her Bachelor of Science with first class honours majoring in Physics, all A's with marks in the nineties.

      Beatrice and Brian married in the May vacation of 1961. In June 1961, Brian headed off to Samoa. This was the first of many and long separations that Beatrice and Brian endured.

      During 1962 and 1963 Beatrice was part-time physics teacher at the Christchurch Girls' High School and in 1963 gave private tuition to University students.

      Beatrice chose a non-astronomy topic for her M.Sc. thesis "Theory of the Crystal Field of Neodymium Magnesium Nitrate". In 1963 she gained first class honours. She was awarded the Haydon prize for Physics and the Charles Cook, Warwick House Memorial Scholarship.

      Brian Tinsley

      Brian accepted a position at the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies (SCAS), in Dallas Texas. SCAS later became part of the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD). Brian, in 2000, is a Professor at UTD. Brian is involved in observational and theoretical research on upper atmosphere processes (Aeronomy) .

      The Canterbury University Grants Committee reluctantly allowed Beatrice to hold her scholarship at SCAS. Beatrice and Brian flew out of New Zealand in October, 1963.

    9. America (1963-1968)
    10. Beatrice and Brian got an apartment near the Southern Methodist University (SMU) where the SCAS was located. On writing of President Kennedy's assassination "Black date and black address." The first of many meetings that Beatrice was to attend during her career was the Texas Symposia held in December 1963 in Dallas. She explained "important international … people coming include Hoyle, Oppenheimer and just about every famous living man in the field from all over the world." Her assessment was "I wish I knew enough to appreciate it fully." It did not take Beatrice long to catch up with then lead everyone.

      About July 1964 Beatrice wrote "Big changes afoot in my life. In September I am enrolling in the Astronomy Department of the University of Texas in Austin for a Ph.D. The American system being unlike NZ. I shall have to attend lectures and sit exams for two terms, then do a thesis. Austin being two hundred miles away this is rather a problem, but it is soluble and worth it". She justified the huge change - flying down every Tuesday morning, and bus back (5 hours but she read) every Friday afternoon - and the expense - to come from her scholarship fund - fares, fees, living (Brian eating out) and rent (a room in former professor's widow's home) - "I was getting depressed at my scientific stagnation, not having a baby."

      Edward believed that Beatrice's dislike of Dallas had more to do with the attitude of the other wives - not wanting to 'pour' when invited to take the teapot at mixed gatherings. SCAS moved to Richardson, so Brian and Beatrice found a new home with a house and garden.

      Beatrice had her plans "ultimately (i.e. When we are at the children-grown-up stage) look for a University teaching+research post - I feel very much that I would be a lot more satisfied doing teaching as well, not all research." Her reference to children was that she and Brian had decided to adopt a child. Alan Roger Tinsley was born 28th August 1966 in New Zealand.

      Beatrice was active in the community - she would organise clothes from SCAS and deliver them to the poor Indian community.

      Edward describing Beatrice and Brian with their new baby 'I recall then them walking up to the path in our home in Wellington with Beatrice carrying the baby and absolutely delighted'. Lesley (Alderman) Powell, a high-school friend writing of Beatrice in 1966 "Beetle visited me in Wellington in 1966 just after they adopted their first baby. She seemed still the same Beetle - already enthusiastically dedicated to nil world population"

      Beatrice had her priorities "…being Alan's mother is my number 1 priority as long as he is totally dependant on me all day." To achieve this she had outside help five days a week "So now I can divide my time between Alan, Brian and astronomy."

      Edward said 'Years later, when she and Brian had parted, Beatrice told me that she had hesitated considerably before agreeing to this adoption, because she was already suffering strains from their frequent partings while pursuing their separate studies, but not even when I have re-read the letters written at the time can I detect signs of an approaching marriage breakdown.'

      Graduating Ph.D., 1966 University of Texas at Austin

      Beatrice typed her own thesis. She reasoned that it was quicker and cheaper than dressing Alan, visiting a typist and explaining the changes. The Vita page reads 'This dissertation was typed by Beatrice M. Tinsley'.

      Beatrice was not confident, "but they passed me." She had her Ph. D. by Dec 17th 1964. In a similar time frame as had Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.

      Her plan was to obtain a post-doctoral fellowship so that she could work at home while Alan slept.

    11. The Family on the Move (1969 -1973)
    12. A second baby was to be adopted as Beatrice had not wanted Alan to be an 'only'. Sad news arrived for Beatrice as her mother, Jean died May 7 1968. Theresa Jean (Terry) Tinsley was born 10th May 1968, the day of Jean's funeral. Beatrice said 'such a natural form of comfort that a new life begins in the family when an older person dies."

      Beatrice fits in violin practice and continues to play some chamber music for the Richardson Orchestra. There is no time for cosmology. She is more tied to house as Brian was often away.

      Beatrice was given a 'fictitious appointment as a visiting scientist' which pays for some computing and making pre-print copies" of short paper on cosmology sent. It may not have been much, but she was better off than off than Maria Goepper Mayer, 1963 Nobel Prize Laureate in 1963, who worked as a "volunteer associate" in her husband's laboratory for 29 years.

      At the time of Edward's mother's 85th birthday, Edward describes Beatrice as 'strung up … looking back tremendous tension I could not sense was due in large measure to the clash between her devotion to science and home.'

      Beatrice had to spend a lot of the time writing proposals for funds, as UTD policy is that as she is the spouse of a faculty member so they can not show favouritism. She obtains a $500 grant from Sigma Delta Epsilon-Graduate Women in Science (GWIS).

      In 1970 Beatrice and Brian join Richardson Unitarian Church. Also at this time she was actively involved in Zero Population Growth (ZPG) as secretary/treasurer and trustee attending meetings and producing newsletters.

      The National Science Foundation (NSF) grants Beatrice part-time work. She attends American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting at Amerherst August 1971. She writes of Margaret Burbidge declining the Annie J. Cannon prize for women "very eminent woman astronomer - great enough to win any honours in any contest turned down a prestigious prize offered to women astronomers (only) on the ground that special honors and discrimination for women should be abolished. … It certainly woke up some of those there as to what problems (not all discriminatory of course) women face and how deeply they are felt! I've written (I hope politely) to the committee.".

      In January 1972 Beatrice takes a 3 month leave of absence from UTD. Beatrice and the children head to of California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena for her to work at Hale Observatory (Mt. Palomar). "I'm working very hard … enormously enjoying life being surrounded by eminent astronomers and astrophysicists. This is a very prestigious place. I'll be going to back to Dallas with ideas to last for years." Of Beatrice's future ambitions "I'd love to learn to observe when the kids are older."

      When Beatrice attended the April 1972 (AAS) meeting in Seattle '"Meeting them [astronomers] again was an inspiration'" and two months later, though missing the stimulus Caltech, she was still happily working on ideas she had gained there.

      Beatrice always hoped to get promoted to Assistant Professor at UTD, "Currently one faculty member out of fifty-two is a woman." But she was constantly on the move to attend meetings and present her papers. In San Francisco, a "well-received paper" ,"very profitable."

      UTD asked Beatrice to write a proposal for the Astronomy Department "It looks very hopeful" .. fairly sure to get approval here, but the State Coordinating Board may not want it. The proposal has to be written in the most nauseating jargon. I read three other proposals through, drank a glass of wine, then translated my straightforward English into a fairly good imitation."

      In 1973, Beatrice accepted a temporary lectureship at University of Maryland, College Park near Washington. The family lived in Silver Springs. Brian was working in Washington so commuted to Silver Springs. Beatrice of her work "not profitable financially .. a great boost professionally .. now an accepted member of the community of cosmologists and astrophysicists - gratifying long dreams! The work is a pleasure to me!"

      At this time, Beatrice had a trip to Europe, then to Caltech for a week consulting with James E. Gunn, then travelling to and fro from Austin.

    13. A Time of Struggle (1974-1975)
    14. More travelling when in July August 1974 Beatrice had an all expenses paid trip to Institute of Theoretical Astronomy, Cambridge England. Then off on another family trip to Paris and Brazil and Peru to visit with her sister Rowena .

      Commenting on trying to work at UTD "has reduced me to a state of mental anguish. Hard to explain! I am a good scientist, and among my peers treated like a full and respectable person and feel of worth. UTD. has kept me at the nearest possible level to nothing and there is no one who knows enough about astronomy to care in the least for my work, Austin has helped, but it is second rate job (underpaid, half-time) at a department much worse than I'm worth. This isn't supposed to be boasting. To be rejected and undervalued intellectually is a gut problem to me and I've lived with it most of the time we've been here, apart from extended visits to Caltech and Maryland and shorter trips and meetings and so on."

      Before leaving Beatrice had been asked to go Cambridge for three years. Both Yale and Chicago universities offered her Assistant Professorships also a possibility of Cornell.

      Beatrice applied to be made head of Astronomy UTD which she had designed. No reply. At a party the man who should have replied said "I have a letter from you, don't I, that I must answer some time". She took pleasure in saying "You needn't bother now. I'm choosing between Chicago and Yale!"

      By 1975 Beatrice and Brian divorced. Brian became legal parent "I have no doubt Brian is an excellent parent" Beatrice was "possessory conservator" - sending money, and having visits. She wanted to ensure that the children continued to love both parents and she wanted to see them as much as possible, so she turned down the prestigious offer of Cambridge. To reduce the impact of departure she left the family home whilst the children opened their Christmas presents. Her father writes 'years later she wondered whether the trauma of leaving the children triggered the cancer'

    15. Yale University (1975-1981)

    Early in 1975, Beatrice spent time at the Lick Observatory part of University of California, Santa Cruz (UCO). Later at Yale University, she was able to spend more time with her friend and colleague, Canadian Richard B. Larson, a cellist, a soul mate in music and astronomy .

    In March 1975 Beatrice was awarded a Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship "a lot of money (total $19,000 to be managed by Yale) spend the way I like on research- e.g. financing trips to England in the summer etc." She lectured at Yale and also traveled to Princeton. "Its nice to being beyond treated as a crank or an upstart" More trips to Caltech San Diego and two to Berkley. To Cambridge England in July 1975, then to Santa Cruz, then she drove back from Santa Cruz to New Haven by herself.

    At an astronomy Christmas Party, Beatrice describes the event "Gone with the Stellar Wind: - Scarlet O'Tinsley -had to preserve her plantation in order she would get famous. [chorused the cast] 'Frankly dear we don't give a damn'. Much fun!"

    A committee was formed at Yale to improve the status of women in the University and Beatrice joined. "it's going to be hard to think of good solutions to the problems, and it isn't made any easier by the militant feminists or by suave conservatives".

    By the end of February 1978 a lump was discovered on Beatrice's leg - skin cancer was diagnosed. Early May 1978 another trip across to California. Sensibly she gave away her skirts and dresses. Her father writes 'Beatrice seemed not so concerned for herself as for her students, especially those not doing so well.' Even when Beatrice was in hospital she sent flowers to her friend Faber whilst Sandra was in hospital.

    Professor at Yale University

    It was mid-August in 1978 that Beatrice received official notice that she was the first female Professor of astronomy at Yale. She served as Director of Graduate Studies. "Even though I'm not teaching a course this term I will be very busy with students and other duties - i.e. occupations other than research, which is what I want to spend most of my time on! I now have three Ph.D. theses to supervise and two term projects, as well the scientific business of all graduate students."

    Evenings were spent doing research and she still managed to practice her music as she was playing in trios at that time.

    By the end 1978 off on a trip to Australia and Wellington NZ to attend astronomical meetings.

    The cancer has worsened. Beatrice realised after the first diagnosis that there was only a 50-50 chance of survival. More surgery followed but there was a recurrent melanoma. Brian had remarried so Terry moved in with Beatrice. In December 1978 there was a visit to hospital for removal of cancerous lymph nodes. In the new year of 1979 she was taking undergraduates class. She obtained a grant from Zonta International. Doing medical research, Beatrice decided to take a course radiation treatment. 'She was aware, she said, that ten years were the very most she could hope to live, and she very much wanted to see five of them to make sure that Terry got to university.'

    Beatrice was cared for in the Yale University infirmary. As her health further deteriorated, she lost the use of her right arm. This did not deter her - she learnt to write left-handed.

    Beatrice writing to her father "all mathematicians do their best work before they were forty."

    Beatrice died 23 March 1981.

    Beatrice wrote this poem just before her death which was read at her memorial service at the Dwight Chapel of Yale University.

    "Let me be like Bach, creating fugues,
    Till suddenly the pen will move no more.
    Let all my themes within - of ancient light,
    Of origins and change and human worth-
    Let all their melodies still intertwine,
    Evolve and merge with ever growing unity,
    Ever without fading,
    Ever without a final chord…
    Till suddenly my mind can hear no more."

    [1] Beatrice in her Vita for her Ph. D names her mother as Jean O'Hagan Hill.
    [2] James Morton, scientist and industrialist was knighted in 1936. James Morton was the first recipient, in 1929, of the Faraday Centennial Medal, "in special recognition of the signal service rendered to chemical science and industry in this country in the last 10 years".
    [3] Cumberland is the north-west most county in England bordering Scotland. The counties of Cumberland and Westmorland were joined in 1974 to form the county of Cumbria.
    [4] Brian Tinsley was also Program Director for Aeronomy at the National Science Foundation 1986-88.
    [5] President John F. Kennedy assassinated 22 November 1963, Dallas, TX
    [6] Graduate Women in Science - Sigma Delta Epsilon is an interdisciplinary society of scientists who encourage and support women to enter and achieve success in science through full participation in their scientific research and its applications
    [7] Zonta International a world-wide service organisation of executives in business and professions who work together to advance the status of women.

    End Notes
    1 Hill p. 6
    2 Hill p. 10
    3 Hill p. 18
    4 Catley p. 156
    5 Catley p. 157
    6 Catley p. 158
    7 Hill p. 24
    8 Hill p. 27
    9 Hill p. 28
    10 Hill p. 29
    11 Hill p. 30
    12 Hill p. 31
    13 Hill p. 32
    14 Hill p. 34
    15 Hill p. 44
    16 Hill p. 44
    17 Hill p. 45
    18 Hill p. 46
    19 Hill p. 47
    20 Hill p. 52
    21 Catley p. 159
    22 Hill p. 55
    23 Hill p. 55
    24 Hill p. 53
    25 Hill p. 55
    26 Hill p. 58
    27 Hill p. 62
    28 Shepherd p. 42
    29 Hill p. 62-63
    30 Hill p. 64
    31 Hill p. 67
    32 Hill p. 67
    33 Hill p. 68
    34 Hill p. 69
    35 Hill p. 69
    36 Hill p. 69
    37 Hill p. 70
    38 Hill p. 72
    39 Hill p. 76
    40 Hill p. 77
    41 Hill p. 77
    42 Hill p. 78
    43 Hill p. 81
    44 Hill p. 82
    45 Hill p. 93
    46 Hill p. 88
    47 Hill p. 95
    48 Hill p. 97-98
    49 Hill p. 103
    50 Hill p. 106
    51 Hill p.109

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    Date Created 1 June 2000
    Last Updated 14 June 2000